News that Adam Popp, an USAF vet from OEF who lost his lower leg, was denied seating in the exit row on an Alaska Air flight to DCA. Adam is a 12-year veteran of the Air Force who served as an EOD Team Leader in Afghanistan in 2007. He lost his lower leg to an IED there and medically retired from the USAF in 2009. Adam is very active and you would never know he had a prosthetic leg if he had long pants on. However, he chose to wear shorts that day which clearly displayed his prosthetic leg. On this long transcon flight he had selected the Exit Row. The Flight Attendant insisted that he move from the Exit Row or he would call law enforcement. Adam knew better than to make a fuss out of it and moved, but he ensured that he raised the issue once he landed. Here is an interesting page about Adam and the organization where he works for wounded vets.
I will admit that I am sensitive to the way society treats “disabled” veterans. You see, I never saw my father walk. He was a WW2 Navy Medic who went to college on the GI Bill and applied to, and was accepted, to Boston University Medical School. He volunteered to work in a polio ward the summer between graduating from Emory and starting med school. While serving there, he contracted the often deadly disease, and became a quadriplegic staying alive in an iron lung. He battled back to become “only” a paraplegic and went on to attend med school the next year as part of the first class to ever allow disabled students to become doctors. He did well, becoming a successful child psychiatrist, worked for the VA, married a nurse there and had five kids. As the eldest, I was the skinny 7 year old who had to help my Dad up a street corner curb or ask strangers for help to carry him to the beach. I get the difficulties that the handicapped face, but fortunately (or unfortunately) we have a whole new generation of vets with new technology to face these challenges. I personally would have complete confidence that Adam would open that Exit Door if needed. Frankly, I have a lot more confidence that he could accomplish that mission than the 100 lb. overweight passenger who I have seen in an Exit Row.
Alaska Airlines responded that the FAA has issued conflicting guidance on who may sit in the Exit Row. I expect the “conflict” is the definition of able-bodied which unfortunately still faces some prejudices in today’s society. As many of you know, I am a big fan of AS, but they definitely need some retraining for their FAs. Voice your opinion on this issue and let AS know that this is unacceptable behavior to our combat veterans. They face many challenges and sitting in the Exit Row should not be one of them.